These kids are loud, aggressive, impatient, and most of all, they don’t believe in themselves. They come to Ma’aleh to have a place of their own and when they leave, for the most part, they’re back on the margins of society. They’re taller than me, bigger than me, and their Hebrew is rapid-firing, admonishing, and angry. But they’re still children who need the same things that all children do: security, comfort, boundaries, routine, and someone who knows what they can accomplish even when they don’t. I was nervous when I walked in on Thursday morning for my first real day.
I began with M. Small and covered in scabbed over bruises, M. is a spunky fast-talking kid. He’s always playing with something—a phone, the computer, running from one end of the room to the other. He does everything he can to avoid work. I noticed over the past few days of observing him that he likes clay, markers, and drawing. So I went over to the supply cabinet and took out two pieces of paper, colored pencils, and two scissors. I called him over to a secluded corner and told him that I want to show him something fun. Together, we made two origami fortune tellers and decorated them with words M. is learning in English class. Then we played a game where he had to combine the two words on the flaps of the fortune teller into a sentence in English. Then I would draw it on my paper to create a four-scene comic strip. When it was my turn, I gave him a sentence in English and he had to draw what I said. We sat together for a whole hour and made our story. When we came out, I told him that next week I expect him to retell the stories to me in complete English sentences. He said OK and ran away to sit again in the corner with his phone. Moriah walked over to me startled. She couldn’t believe I got him to sit for an entire hour and learn! He normally doesn’t stay for longer than 15 minutes.
After that, I gained more confidence. I bonded with H., a tall slinky girl with long dark curls swinging down her back and large, thick lashes around her almond shaped eyes. When she told me she loves to dance I entertained her with stories of my six-year-olds in Harlem who think that they’re Michael Jackson and my one student who performed a break-dance routine at the Apollo. We sat in the sun on a light blue bench under an olive tree and completed her English homework. When she left she gave me a quick hug and thanked me and said she’s excited to see me next week.
The day ended with N., the sweet boy who I had watched Moriah counsel the week before. Last Thursday he told me about his plans to go out for pizza and I’d asked him if he’s ever made pizza dough. So he came up to me and asked if I had the recipe yet. I told him I didn’t, but that I would be happy to cook with him every Thursday after school if he agreed to stay a bit later (he has permission to leave school early and this was the only time we had in our schedule for him to work with me). He immediately agreed and we made plans for next week’s first lesson.
I am moving slowly and don’t yet have a plan beyond forming connections. I’m going to take my time and learn each child and then by the end of November I hope to have a project outline for each of them. I’m going to give them a goal of a year-end presentation and then we’re going to get to work, highlighting whatever skills they think will be most useful to present all that they’ve learned. Moriah was excited and asked if I would be willing to work with the other volunteers and give workshops about how to use informal education to support their academics. She asked if I would be willing to do some professional development sessions for the teachers on the thematic projects approach to learning. The best part of the day was when M. and N. ran over to Moriah after only a few hours with them, asked if I would be allowed to join them on their week-long class trip. I don’t have the proper permissions, but the fact that they asked meant I am heading in the right direction.